Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Popular science author says all types of media have their place

Steven Berlin Johnson, popular science author and contributing editor toWired magazine, said every type of media—from video games to television—has learning value.

Johnson, the author of Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, spoke to an audience of nearly 400 at the final Bridges to the Future event of the 2008-09 academic year on March 31. This year’s theme was “A Nation Still at Risk: the Future of Education.”

Johnson said pop culture is an asset to educators, not a hindrance.

He realized pop culture’s value as he watched his nephews play the computer game Sims, which has players build multifaceted communities.

“When people interact with games like this, they are learning complex, what I call system thinking,” Johnson said. “It’s an incredibly rich way of thinking of the world, and it’s very hard to teach in a book or in a lecture.”

In addition to video games, Johnson used the example of the hit show “Lost.” The program’s blogs and Web sites show how television can be interactive and intellectual as well.

“All of these forms have value,” he said. “They have different value and it’s up to us to find ways to use them in appropriate places.”

Johnson said there is no way to completely understand the effects of pop culture on children, but there is empirical evidence to suggest positive effects. The most recent generation, which grew up with video games, is the most environmentally aware, politically active, entrepreneurial and least violent group since the 1960s, he said.

Fernand Lubuguin, assistant professor of psychology at DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology, said Johnson’s speech gave him a sense of optimism.

“I loved it. I thought that he dispelled a lot of common myths of the impact of video games,” Lubuguin said. “It was refreshing and inspiring.”

Johnson’s speech will be offered in its entirety on the Bridges to the Future site by April 6. In addition, the DU has partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS to offer these events on television. The speech will be featured in a one-hour special this spring. Look for air date information at or on the Rocky Mountain PBS Web site.
Bridges to the Future was created in 2002 to engage Coloradans in an exploration of American history, values and expectations in a post-9/11 world.

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